Alligators are large, semi-aquatic reptiles that live in freshwater wetlands and marshes. They are native to the southeastern United States and found in parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Only two states – Florida and Louisiana – have sizable wild alligator populations. Here’s an overview of where alligators live in the United States.
Florida has the largest wild alligator population in the U.S., with over 1 million estimated to live in the state. They are found throughout Florida in freshwater lakes, ponds, marshes, swamps, rivers and canals. Alligators can be found in all 67 counties in Florida, but are most concentrated in the central and southern regions of the state. Some of the largest alligator populations are found in the Florida Everglades and in Lake Okeechobee. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates there are between 5 and 10 alligators per mile of shoreline in some parts of the state.
Key Facts about Florida Alligators
- Estimated population: Over 1 million wild alligators
- Range: Statewide, in all 67 counties
- High density areas: Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, central and south Florida
- Average size: 7-8 feet long
- Largest recorded: Just over 14 feet long
Louisiana is home to a large wild alligator population estimated between 1.5 and 2 million. Alligators inhabit freshwater wetlands throughout the state, including swamps, marshes, bayous, ponds and lakes. They are found in all 64 parishes but are most abundant in the southern part of the state. The highest densities occur in coastal marshes and swamps in the Atchafalaya Basin, Barataria Basin and Vermilion Bay areas.
Key Facts about Louisiana Alligators
- Estimated population: 1.5-2 million wild alligators
- Range: Statewide, in all 64 parishes
- High density areas: Atchafalaya Basin, Barataria Basin, Vermilion Bay
- Average size: 9-10 feet long
- Largest recorded: Over 19 feet long
Other U.S. States with Alligator Populations
In addition to Florida and Louisiana, small populations of wild alligators live in:
- South Carolina – Alligators are found along the coast and in the southwestern corner of the state.
- Georgia – Coastal marshes and swamps have small alligator populations, mostly in the southern half of the state.
- Alabama – Occur near the coast in Mobile Bay and areas of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.
- Mississippi – Found in wetlands along the Gulf coast, especially near Pascagoula.
- Arkansas – A small population lives near the Gulf Coastal Plain in the southwest corner of the state.
- Oklahoma – Scattered populations in waterways near the Red River in McCurtain County.
- Texas – Found in wetlands along the Gulf Coast from Beaumont to Brownsville.
- North Carolina – A small number occur in swamps and lakes in the southeastern corner of the state.
These states have much smaller alligator populations numbering in the thousands or tens of thousands, compared to the millions in Florida and Louisiana. Alligator sightings are rare outside of coastal wetlands in these states.
Table of Alligator Population Estimates by State
|State||Estimated Alligator Population|
|Florida||Over 1 million|
Why are alligators found in these states?
Alligators are native to wetland habitats in the southeastern U.S. They thrive in warm, subtropical climates and are cold-intolerant. This limits their natural geographic range to areas without severe winter freezes. The American alligator’s historic range reached as far north as the Carolinas and west to Texas. Habitat loss has reduced their populations in many areas.
Florida and Louisiana support the largest alligator populations due to extensive wetlands like the Everglades and Atchafalaya Basin. These massive swamp ecosystems provide ideal alligator habitat. Coastal marshes along the Gulf of Mexico also create excellent habitat. Farther north, only small remnant groups still exist in isolated wetlands.
Alligators live in freshwater wetlands such as:
- Marshes – Herbaceous plant-dominated wetlands
- Swamps – Wooded or forested wetlands
- Bayous – Slow-moving creeks or canals
- Ponds – Both natural and human-made ponds
- Lakes – Alligators favor lakes with shoreline vegetation
- Rivers and streams – Slow-moving lowland rivers and creeks
They are found anywhere with a combination of shallow, slow-moving water, shoreline vegetation, and prey availability. Access to deeper pools for thermal regulation is also important.
Key Habitat Features
- Warm climate
- Freshwater (low salinity)
- Slow-moving or standing water
- Shoreline vegetation for basking and nesting
- Prey availability – fish, snails, crayfish, etc.
- Deeper pools for temperature regulation
Alligator Behavior and Adaptations
Alligators are large, semi-aquatic predators well-suited to hunting in water. Here are some of their key adaptations:
- Powerful tails for swimming
- Webbed feet for paddling and maneuvering
- Ability to stay underwater for over an hour
- Nictitating membranes to protect eyes during lunging
- Large powerful jaws and teeth for grasping prey
- Dark coloring helps camouflage for ambushing prey
Alligators control their buoyancy in water by swallowing or expelling air from their lungs. They bask on shorelines and riverbanks to regulate their body temperature. Males produce loud bellows during breeding season to attract females.
Unique Alligator Traits
- Can grow over 14 feet long and 1,000 pounds
- Males grow significantly larger than females
- Have between 74-80 teeth at a time
- Prefer to eat live prey but may scavenge opportunistically
- May live over 50 years in captivity
- Females build nest mounds to incubate their eggs
- Mothers may protect hatchlings for over a year
Alligator Conservation Status
Alligators were once threatened by overhunting and habitat loss, but have recovered due to conservation efforts. They are no longer listed as endangered or threatened at state or federal levels.
Alligator conservation successes include:
- Legal protection from overhunting since the 1960s
- Habitat protection through wetlands preservation
- Reintroduction and restocking programs
- Monitoring and sustainable harvesting policies
They serve important roles as top predators in wetland ecosystems. Alligators help control prey populations and retain nutrients. While no longer endangered, ongoing wetlands conservation is still needed to protect alligator habitats.
Alligator Conservation Status
- IUCN Red List – Least Concern
- ESA Federal Listing – Not listed (delisted due to recovery in 1987)
- State Listings – Not listed, game animal/managed harvest in most states
Interesting Facts about Alligators
- American alligators are the largest reptiles in North America.
- They have existed relatively unchanged for over 37 million years.
- Alligators can hold their breath underwater for over an hour.
- Mother alligators may carry newly hatched babies in their jaws.
- Alligators usually live between 30-50 years in the wild.
- They are ectotherms and rely on external heat sources to regulate their body temperature.
- Alligators dig out pools known as gator holes during droughts as refuge.
- Hatchling alligators are vulnerable to predators like snakes, wading birds, otters.
- Alligators are hunted at night since their eyes glow bright red in the dark.
- They are surprisingly speedy on land for short bursts and can run up to 11 mph.
In summary, the American alligator is a large, semi-aquatic reptile inhabiting wetlands and marshes in the southeastern United States. The largest populations are found in Florida and Louisiana, with over a million alligators each. Smaller populations exist in coastal wetlands of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and North Carolina. Alligators live in swamps, marshes, ponds, lakes, rivers, and other slow-moving water habitats. They are large predators well adapted for an aquatic lifestyle. Once threatened by hunting and habitat loss, alligator populations have recovered thanks to conservation protections, making a conservation success story.